Comedians and actresses Jo Brand and Meera Syal have become two of the first Dementia Friends as part of the Alzheimer's Society's trailblazing awareness movement.

Dementia Friends is an initiative that aims to give a million people an improved awareness of the condition by 2015, as a new YouGov survey reveals that just under half (48%) of people think they have a good understanding of dementia. From today anyone in England can follow in Jo and Meera’s footsteps and register online for a Dementia Friend session too.

Alzheimer’s Society ambassador Jo, who recently appeared in BBC4 drama series Getting On and the charity’s new supporter Meera, best known for The Kumars at No 42 took part in the first official Dementia Friends session along with other members of the public including a junior doctor and a member of the National Federation of Women’s Institute.

The free volunteer-led information sessions are being rolled out from Bristol to Sunderland today. They aim to improve public knowledge of dementia, by helping people understand what living with the condition might be like, and the small things that they could do to make a difference to people living in their community.

The roll out is being jointly funded by the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office , as part of the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia. As well as encouraging people to sign up as Dementia Friends, Alzheimer’s Society is also calling on people to volunteer to be a Dementia Friends Champion. Dementia Friends Champions talk to people about being a Dementia Friend in their communities. They attend a training course, receive on-going support and are part of a growing network of people creating dementia friendly communities together.

Jeremy Hughes, Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive said: "With so few people feeling they know enough about dementia, we are so excited to be able to invite everyone up and down the country to become a Dementia Friend. Dementia Friends isn’t about creating experts, it’s about helping people understand a little bit more about what it’s like to live with the condition and then turn that understanding into action – anyone of any age can be a Dementia Friend.

“From helping someone to find the right bus to spreading the word about dementia, every action counts. Sign up to be a Dementia Friend and you can help us to transform England by changing public attitudes and making life better for people with dementia.”

Meera Syal, who is speaking as an Alzheimer’s Society supporter for the first time today, said: “One of my close family members has dementia and many of my friends have parents and grandparents living with the condition. I wanted to be a Dementia Friend so that I could start to think about how I can help in my community. I am particularly keen to raise awareness of dementia within the Asian community, indeed in all communities where people may not know ehat support is out there and available. Dementia Friends would be a great way to get people talking and to ensure that people with dementia can be included wherever they live.”

Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Jo Brand, who has professional experience of dementia through her previous work in the health sector said: "Being a Dementia Friend is about being that little bit more aware because it’s the small things that make a big difference. I trained as a psychiatric nurse so know all too well how dementia affects people.

“The Dementia Friends’ information session I took part in gave a real insight into what everyday life is like for someone with dementia. This really helps you to realise how showing a bit more understanding could make a huge difference.”

There are already 60 Dementia Friend and 30 Dementia Friends Champion sessions lined up across England over the next three months with more due to be announced in the near future. To sign up and to find out where your nearest session is visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk.

Source: DementiaFriends.org.uk

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